Sol Flores, founding Executive Director of La Casa Norte, works to fight homelessness in Chicago. (Photo/Courtesy of Sol Flores)

Helping Hands: One woman works to fight Latino homelessness in Chicago

It’s been ten years since Sol Flores left her career in consulting to help Chicago’s homeless, and she’s never looked back since.

Flores is the founding Executive Director of La Casa Norte, a Chicago based organization that serves youth and confronts homelessness. La Casa Norte provides an environment for the homeless to learn, seek guidance, and get back on their feet.  The center offers a variety of programs ranging from scattered site housing to counseling and life goal planning to Casa Corazon, a homeless youth engagement program designed to help youth move from the streets into stable housing.

Now, Flores is developing a new community center and housing project to bring critical resources to Humboldt Park.  She hopes to make the one million dollar project one of a kind with a technology lab for youth, a food pantry, a healthcare and nutrition center, and a permanent supportive housing unit for homeless people, youth, and families.

(Photo/Courtesy of Sol Flores) The proposed design for Casa Norte capital development project.

(Photo/Courtesy of Sol Flores) The proposed design for Casa Norte capital development project.

Flores says she believes that it is this kind of innovation, developing a continuum of housing and support services, that makes La Casa Norte unique.

“We’ve been continuously learning and growing. We’re really trying to deliver on the promise of quality services and advocacy for those who are underserved,” she says.

Her hard work has not gone unnoticed. In October, Flores was honored as a White House Champion of Change, a prestigious award for people making a difference in their communities.

For her, the award means more because is a Latina serving the her own community. Nearly 1 in 4 Latino adults are living below the poverty line. According to Casa Norte, 1 in 3 Latinos have experienced food insecurity since the 2008 recession, making them the most food insecure group. Flores says that over 50 percent of the community Casa Norte serves is Latino.

“I was the only person of color and the only Latina. It’s important that communities are led by people who reflect that community,” Flores says. “It really put the five-star stamp of approval on our work with policymakers saying hey we’re validating your model as a model for change.”

Although Flores started out as a consultant, service was always a big part of her life.

“I had this consulting job right out of college making more money than my parents. I was hard to say that I wanted to leave,” she recalls.

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When she was laid off from her management consulting job because of economic troubles, Flores described it as “almost a relief” because it meant she was free to pursue her true passion: service. It was this instilled sense of helping the community that inspired her to change careers and start La Casa Norte.

“My grandparents were one of the first foster care parents in Illinois. I was raised in a family with a real understanding of justice and how we could contribute to the family,” Flores says. “I had the opportunity to look at homelessness and its multifaceted issues such as drugs, alcohol.”

Once Flores started Casa Norte, she was in her element. “My work place finally aligned with my personal values.”

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Casa Norte may be focused on expanding, but right now Flores says her goal is to make the center a warm place for the holidays. Casa Norte will be welcome nearly 200 families from the Humboldt area for a big party.

“We have donated food, a Santa Claus, and we’re having a huge toy drive for the holidays,” Flores says.

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